Sunday, February 26, 2012

Are you obsessive?

Are you a pansy . . .

. . . or are you obsessive?

What IS the magic number?

" . . . there seems to be an ideal distance to run--below which makes you a pansy, above which makes you an obsessive. what is that magic number?" --Marck Parent in "My Sweaty Little Secret" in Feb issue of Runners World.

Image for product 201202_runnersworld

Love this quote! And, though I don't think anyone is ever a "pansy" for getting out there to run, no matter the distance, I definitely agree there is a crossover, at some point, into obsessive. I just don't know where/when that is. Do you? For me, that "magic number" seems to increase with each new race goal/distance I achieve . . .

Friday, February 24, 2012

In love with trail running

I’m in love. With trail running.

I’ve walked on trails, hiked on trails, skied on trails, rode horses and mountain bikes on trails, but I’ve never run on trails.

Because, usually, I run alone. And this is not something I feel safe to do on trails.

But today, with my husband and my dog, I set out for a 3-mile trail run, my first real trail run, and it was glorious.

The damp, misty day lent a surreal feel to the forest, muting sights and sounds and casting an eerie, low-lying fog on the lake, but without my iPod or the distraction of cars rushing by, I took in the subtle noises around me; the trickle of a stream, the call of a bird, my dog splashing at the water’s edge.

(This is what my trail looked like, minus the leaves)

I felt alive; free. A blur of movement in the still of the forest. The slightly sodden earth gracefully absorbed each footfall in a way that the unforgiving asphalt and concrete surfaces cannot.

Instead of exhaust fumes and blacktop, I inhaled the scent of damp leaves and pine.

Though my pace was slower on the trail as I navigated the occasional tree roots and rocks, my mind was stimulated, my body exhilarated. I felt the way toddlers must feel when they peel off their pjs before a bath and have the sudden urge to run with abandon, naked and uninhibited, through the house; it’s a feeling of unbridled joy.

When I’d reached my three-mile goal, I wanted to keep going. I was not tired, but invigorated, and my body felt rejuvenated instead of beat up the way it usually feels after pounding out the miles on pavement.

I felt completely thrilled by the experience and also completely cheated; this is what I’ve been missing. There is a whole different world of running out there, one with trails that wind through the trees and beside streams and lakes; one that coexists with the deer and squirrels and chipmunks that bound through the forest; one that offers peace and tranquility and a sense of freedom and well-being; one that is mere steps from my front door and yet, I don’t truly have the freedom to enjoy it at will. It’s the realization and understanding that the world, with all that is good and kind, is also a world that is dangerous, unfair and unforgiving.

Before today, I looked upon the pages of Runner’s World, drooling over the pictures of the desolate and magnificent Rave Runs, and could only imagine how inspiring and inviting it would be to run in places like that. But now I know. And now I will long for my next trail run and will cherish each opportunity to run among the trees and imagine that the world is as open and peaceful and beautiful as the trail that winds innocently through the forest.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Yoga benefits trump risk

Or, as a fellow athlete & blogger recently wrote: Yoga got punched in the face!

Yoga painful and dangerous? Maybe if you're doing this:

Or this:

Then you might feel like this:

But in my yoga classes, this is the feeling I'm going for:

Here is a reprint of a column I wrote for my local newspaper on the subject:

Yoga is under attack. A recent New York Times article vilifies the practice and suggests that it can wreck your body. Eating scrapple, drinking soda and smoking can wreck your body. So can wearing high heels or leaping off the couch to high five your friends when the Ravens score a touchdown. But yoga?

When I think of yoga, I envision a practice that focuses on the breath and is peaceful, soothing and kind to the body. The alternate popular view of yoga is one that has people standing on their heads, contorting their spines, and grimacing in pain. In the later scenario, you could indeed wreck your body.

According to Glenn Black, a yoga teacher of nearly four decades who leads a master class in Manhattan, yoga should not be used by the general public and is only for people in good physical condition. I disagree.

When done correctly and carefully, without ego and with respect to the body’s limitations, yoga has the ability to calm the mind, energize the body, strengthen the muscles, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, increase flexibility, and generally improve the well-being of one’s mind, body and spirit.

Yet, the article goes on to suggest that “the vast majority of people should give up yoga” because it is too likely to cause harm. Given that rationale, perhaps we should all give up our stressful jobs and our dangerous vehicles as well?

In my class, I remind students that quieting the mind and focusing on the breath are the most important elements of yoga. I do not allow headstands or encourage students to push beyond their limits. Yoga is a non-competitive sport and everyone’s practice should vary to meet their individual needs. There should never be pain and there is no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to a yoga practice.

As more people participate in yoga, more yoga-related injuries are certain to occur, but so too will incidences of healing and improved health. However, while the article leads readers to believe there has been a meteoric rise in the number of yoga injuries, a survey by the Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that in 2001, when 4 million Americans were reportedly practicing yoga, only 20 cases of emergency-room admissions related to yoga were reported. That, to me, is certainly not cause to roll up my mat and assume a yoga-related injury is inevitable. Most of the injuries described in the article were the result of irresponsible and extreme practices, such as sitting for hours a day in a kneeling position or doing a back bend while balancing on your head.

The benefits of yoga far outweigh any risks. If you currently practice yoga, I urge you to continue in a focused, purposeful manner that honors your body. If you do not practice but have considered it, I encourage you to give it a try. There are a variety of yoga disciplines so it is important to find both a teacher and a class that meets your needs and leaves you feeling balanced and rejuvenated after you practice.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Today's Journey:

No, not this Journey.

This journey:

A 3-mile interval run this morning (though using the word "interval" today is a bit of an exaggeration).

And, this Journey:

An afternoon at the movies with my three favorite girls :)

What journeys did you take today?

A Woman's Week at the Gym

Thanks to my friend Dana for sharing this! :)


This is dedicated to everyone who ever attempted to get into a regular workout routine.

Dear Diary,
For my birthday this year, my husband purchased a week of personal training at the local health club.
Although I am still in great shape since being a high school football cheerleader 43 years ago, I decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and give it a try.
I called the club and made my reservations with a personal trainer named Christo, who identified himself as a 26-year-old aerobics instructor and model for athletic clothing and swim wear.
Friends seemed pleased with my enthusiasm to get started! The club encouraged me to keep a diary to chart my progress.
Started my day at 6:00 a.m. Tough to get out of bed, but found it was well worth it when I arrived at the health club to find Christo waiting for me. He is something of a Greek god-- with blond hair, dancing eyes, and a dazzling white smile. Woo Hoo!!
Christo gave me a tour and showed me the machines... I enjoyed watching the skillful way in which he conducted his aerobics class after my workout today. Very inspiring!
Christo was encouraging as I did my sit-ups, although my gut was already aching from holding it in the whole time he was around. This is going to be a FANTASTIC week!!
I drank a whole pot of coffee, but I finally made it out the door. Christo made me lie on my back and push a heavy iron bar into the air then he put weights on it! My legs were a little wobbly on the treadmill, but I made the full mile. His rewarding smile made it all worthwhile. I feel GREAT! It's a whole new life for me.
The only way I can brush my teeth is by laying the toothbrush on the counter and moving my mouth back and forth over it. I believe I have a hernia in both pectorals. Driving was OK as long as I didn't try to steer or stop. I parked on top of a GEO in the club parking lot.
Christo was impatient with me, insisting that my screams bothered other club members.. His voice is a little too perky for that early in the morning and when he scolds, he gets this nasally whine that is VERY annoying.
My chest hurt when I got on the treadmill, so Christo put me on the stair monster. Why would anyone invent a machine to simulate an activity rendered obsolete by elevators? Christo told me it would help me get in shape and enjoy life. He said some other crap too.
Butt hole was waiting for me with his vampire-like teeth exposed as his thin, cruel lips were pulled back in a full snarl. I couldn't help being a half an hour late-- it took me that long to tie my shoes.
He took me to work out with dumbbells. When he was not looking, I ran and hid in the restroom. He sent some skinny witch to find me.
Then, as punishment, he put me on the rowing machine-- which I sank.

I hate that Christo more than any human being has ever hated any other human being in the history of the world. Stupid, skinny, anemic, anorexic, little aerobic instructor. If there was a part of my body I could move without unbearable pain, I would beat him with it.
Christo wanted me to work on my triceps. I don't have any triceps! And if you don't want dents in the floor, don't hand me the darn barbells or anything that weighs more than a sandwich.
The treadmill flung me off and I landed on a health and nutrition teacher. Why couldn't it have been someone softer, like the drama coach or the choir director?
Satan left a message on my answering machine in his grating, shrilly voice wondering why I did not show up today. Just hearing his voice made me want to smash the machine with my planner; however, I lacked the strength to even use the TV remote and ended up catching eleven straight hours of the Weather Channel..
I'm having the Church van pick me up for services today so I can go and thank GOD that this week is over. I will also pray that next year my husband will choose a gift for me that is fun-- like a root canal or a hysterectomy. I still say if God had wanted me to bend over, he would have sprinkled the floor with diamonds!!!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Affirmations & Realizations

The past two days have offered several opportunities to affirm things I already know and open my eyes to things I didn't (or didn't want to).

Realization #1: I've gained 5 pounds.

At first I tried to rationalize this reality away: "All these ski clothes sure do add on the pounds," or "This is a bad time of the month to step on a scale." Today, I was out of excuses. I was wearing lightweight clothes, in the morning, in my gym, preparing for a fast & furious pre-run lifting session when I dared step on the scale. Yep. Five pounds. No excuses this time.

If there is one thing that's constant for me, it's my weight. There is a "magic number" (I've written about this before, it's called a weight "set point") that my body likes to be. No matter what I do, train for an Ironman or simply walk my dog, exist on salad or pound the ice cream, my body will typically not stray more than two pounds in either direction from this magic number. Today, however, I've realized that I've pushed my body beyond its comfort zone--something I could not do by burning 3,000 calories a day, but something I have managed to do by popping handfuls of chocolate covered almonds several times a day. This lack of self control and judgement has nudged my scale to the upper end of what I consider acceptable for me. There is a number 5 pounds below my set point that I have seen only a few times in my life. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a number 5 pounds above that set point that I also rarely (thankfully!) see. Today, I've seen it. I was not surprised. I can tell by the way my jeans have been fitting.

So, I will now have to find the will power to step away from the chocolates until I have things under control. Or until I'm doing 3,000 calorie-torching workouts again!

Realization #2: I do have springs. Sometimes.

In the 20 runs I've logged since the start of 2012, today was my best run to date--tied for the fastest pace as an earlier (interval) run of a shorter distance. Today, I was only 15 seconds off my PR pace for a similar distance and I felt great! (Though I sucked in enough air during my final sprint to give me hiccups during my recovery!) I felt light, fast, airy--"springy;" something that is rare for me. Which leads me to a list of affirmations:

Affirmation #1: I attribute today's successful run to the perfect storm of ideal factors coming together on the same day:

1) I had 9 hours of sleep; my body's ideal number. 2) I ate breakfast--power oatmeal, and, an hour later, I drank coffee--Starbucks Natural Fusions Caramel-flavored.
3) Then I hit the gym for 30 minutes of super sets; result: I started the run thoroughly warmed up and with an elevated heart rate. 4) I ran at 2:00 PM. I'm often not as motivated to run as the day wears on but I always perform better later in the day. (Statistics prove that afternoon is the ideal time to run, when the body's core temp peaks.) 5) Weather was great: Sunny, mid-40s, calm.

These facts are all things I already knew about myself, that I run better when I'm well-rested, well-fed and caffeinated, and when I wait until afternoon. Today simply affirmed them.

Affirmation #2: Acupuncture works.

In addition to all the above factors, I had an acupuncture treatment on Friday afternoon, followed by a day of rest. When I saw my acupuncturist two days ago, I complained of a whole list of aches and pains I'd been experiencing during my runs, primarily in my left foot and knee. Today I felt no pain. My body felt better than it has since, oh, my last acupuncture treatment four weeks ago. It is no coincidence that when I was first diagnosed with PF that rest didn't work and PT didn't work. Acupuncture worked. After I'd healed, I dropped to a maintenance schedule of one treatment every four weeks and maintained a status quo. Then my original practitioner went on maternity leave and I went 3 months without a treatment. No surprise--my knee and foot problems recurred to the point I had to walk one of my races in August and half of one last September. I resumed a regular acupuncture schedule for the duration of my Ironman training and, guess what? No problems. Now that I'm training for my first Half Marathon of the 2012 season I've decided to be proactive and resumed a maintenance schedule before any problems occurred. I can feel the difference in my body after a treatment--healthy and healed, verses when I'm due for another treatment--when my body has started to break down again.

Affirmation #3: I crave carbs and hot foods in the winter.

Blame it on the cooler temps or fewer hours of daylight, but it is so much harder to eat salads and drink smoothies in the winter. Instead, I want warm breads and pasta and casseroles, but I try to make do with soups and oatmeal. Panera is killing me, though. While I am trying to get Realization #1 under control, I've got to stop buying Bagel Packs for my family. I can smell the sweet, yeasty bagel smell in the kitchen every time I walk by the bread basket, calling to me, tempting me with their soft, warm, doughiness. Today, I avoided the bagel and quickly made a smoothie before I could succomb to temptation.

Awesome post-run smoothie; so easy & so yummy:

Fruit and Yogurt Smoothie Recipe
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup frozen berries
1/2 cup soy (or almond) milk
2 T ground flaxseed
1 scoop of chocolate Whey Protein Powder.

Blend. Mmm, mmm, good!

A good day for soup

Yesterday was gorgeous: Sunny with temps in the 50's. It would have been a great day for a run but, since I'd already had two back-to-back days, something I try to avoid now that I'm a "Masters Athlete," (And, no, this is not a status symbol as in "mastering" the sport. haha.) I certainly wasn't going to go for three.

So instead of running on a bright, warm day, I'll be setting out today under a sky thick with gray clouds and temps in the low 30's, trying to stay ahead of the afternoon's predicted snowfall.

It is a soup kind of day. By request, I've re-posted two of my previous soup recipes (Southwestern Bean and White Bean & Kale) on my Facebook Page: Triathlon Mom.

Here's another one, an oldie but a goodie, for my meat-eating friends: Taco Soup! (Compliments of my SIL, Megan.)

Taco Soup Recipe

1 # Lean Ground Beef or Turkey, browned & drained
1 Can Corn
1 Can Pinto Beans
1 Can Black Beans
1 Can Kidney Beans
1 Lg Can Diced Tom (20 oz)
1 Pkg Powdered Ranch Dressing Mix
1 Pkg Taco Seasoning

Combine all ingredients in a soup kettle, Dutch oven or slow cooker and simmer.
Top with shredded cheese and sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Let them eat cakes!

It's a Saturday morning ritual. More specifically, it's a ritual on these casual, lazy, winter Saturday mornings when we are not dashing off in three different directions for soccer and lacrosse or swim meets and triathlons.

My husband is the pancake maker and, with our daughters, he cooks up many fun varieties from blueberry-chocolate chip to banana-coconut or apple-cinnamon. Of course, these treats are then topped with syrup (it was initially a struggle to get the girls to switch from Aunt Jemima to pure maple) and whipped cream. It's really more dessert than it is breakfast. But, after a week of eating cereal and oatmeal with fruit, it is treat we are happy to indulge.

Though I enjoy taking in the sights and smells of someone other than me preparing a meal, I prefer my usual power oatmeal concoction to the pancakes; it's more filling & satisfying. Still, when I see the heaping pile of cakes hot off the grill, it's hard to resist sneaking a few.

For those of you who like to indulge in pancakes, here's a healthy tip to enjoy these treats without the guilt:

Start with whole grain batter (whole wheat, oat bran) and use only fresh fruit for fillings/toppings: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, bananas, apple. If your recipe calls for oil, always substitute apple sauce.

Finally, in lieu of the typical (high fructose corn) syrup, try this: Sweeten half a cup of plain Greek yogurt with honey and cinnamon to taste. Heat in microwave for 30 seconds and stir. Top pancakes with yogurt mix instead of syrup. Enjoy having your cake and eating it too!

Our eating choices produce a measurable cause and effect on our bodies. The food we eat changes the way we look and the way we feel. It can even change our moods.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Heavy me

Sunny, calm & 42 degrees: A gorgeous winter morning for a run. But, I do not relish running two days in a row anymore--even for short runs; getting to old for that grind!

Woman Doing Exercise

I'm also still feeling very heavy on my feet these days. Not that I ever feel light and springy (so not my style!),

but given the amount of chocolate I've consumed in the last month,

perhaps there is some fact in that statement. I'd rather not look!


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Running Words of Wisdom

"If you pursue it long enough, running can certainly teach you about mindlessness . . . It takes you down deep and shows you the beauty of pursuing a 'single necessity.' Even without intending to, by training the body to accept long distances, you train the mind what not to think about, such as how much long-distance running hurts and how slowly time passes. Surrender--an acceptance of the fate you've chosen--provides you with the ability to endure more suffering, and the more times you do it, the higher the pain threshold rises and the more finely tuned your ability to endure becomes. Owning responsibility for what you're doing, whatever that may be, empowers."

--Marshall Ulrich, Running on Empty.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Be safe, train smart

Falling Over Safety Block

Image: Stuart Miles /

A fellow fitness blogger recently posted something that made my blood run cold; her cousin in Montana went for a run one morning and never came home.

The very thought strikes fear into my heart. All living things have a life force, a will to live, which probably means that most people do not wake up and wonder if this will be the last day they walk out their front door.

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts — locking our doors, moving to safe neighborhoods, having our cell phones at the ready — evil still exists.

I’m not suggesting we hide in our homes or live in fear but, rather, to recognize that we are vulnerable and remember that we should always pause to consider the risks and benefits of our actions.

Every issue of Runner’s World magazine features a “Rave Run.” Inevitably, these runs are on magnificent, breathtaking landscapes ranging from rocky shoreline trails to snow-covered single tracks in the mountains.But despite the varied terrain, these runs often have one thing in common. They are extremely remote.

Each month I drool over the Rave Run with a sense of longing and wistfulness, knowing that I will likely never run in such an environment — not because of geographical limitations, but due to my upbringing.

As a woman growing up in the Baltimore-Washington suburbs, I was taught from an early age that, in the interest of my safety and well-being, I should avoid remote and desolate places.

My home sits just a short distance from several gorgeous trails surrounding Piney Run Lake and the Liberty Reservoir and I often envy the freedom my husband has to run these trails at will. I realize that I, too, possess this freedom but I choose not to run these trails alone, understanding that, fair or not, I’d be putting myself at a greater risk than he.

I have thought of that female runner in Montana every day since reading that blog post. She left her home , a place where she’d lived for most of her life, and set out for a pre-dawn run on a trail in a field within a mile of her house, possibly something she did daily. But, on that fateful morning, she was sadly in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thinking of this woman, and mourning the loss of a fellow athlete that I did not know, has not caused me to hang up my running shoes or retreat to my treadmill, but it has prompted me to revisit the necessary precautions for staying safe when I exercise outdoors, such as varying my workout days, routes and times.

I once read an article on men who were interviewed after they’d been convicted of assaulting female runners and they were asked what they looked for when choosing a victim. The top answers? Women who were distracted, wearing pony tails, wearing headphones, running in the dark and running alone.

So, be safe out there and train smart. Listen to your intuition and don’t take unnecessary chances. And, if you must explore that inviting wooded trail, take a friend and leave the iPod at home.